In March of 2018, the International AIDS Society (IAS) announced San Francisco, California as the location of the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020).1 AIDS 2020 is projected to be one of the most well-attended international AIDS conferences in the world, however growing opposition to the choice of conference location threatens the attendance of valuable NGOs and civil society actors.2 Since IAS’ 2018 announcement, many HIV/AIDS advocates have opposed the organization’s selection of the United States as the AIDS 2020 host country. The overt expression of hostility and animus that the Trump administration directs toward the populations most vulnerable to HIV infection has resulted in an unwelcoming environment that discourages true global participation in the IAS conference – furthermore, the selection of San Francisco, one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, fails to reflect the needs of the lower income communities that are most burdened by the current HIV/AIDS crisis. This dissent quickly resulted in an open letter by community organizers calling for the IAS to change the AIDS 2020 conference location. However, with over a year having passed since the initial announcement, and with IAS still unwilling to change the conference location, NGOs and civil society organizations have decided to escalate protests by creating HIV 2020, an alternative convening for individuals who are either unable or unwilling to attend the San Francisco conference.1, 3
The HIV 2020 conference will be held in Mexico City and promises a program specifically designed to address the needs of the most affected HIV/AIDS populations.3 The stated goals of the alternative conference are to 1) reaffirm the critical role communities play in the world-wide HIV response, 2) highlight the importance of human rights, and 3) discuss the specific challenges people living with HIV (PLHIV) face in Mexico and the region.3 With community involvement at the forefront of HIV 2020, the creators of the alternative conference seek to rebuke IAS’ elitist and profit-driven San Francisco conference.
While both convenings explicitly call for global unity in the continued HIV/AIDS fight, HIV 2020 supporters argue that IAS’ selection of the United States as the conference host directly opposes the organization’s claimed value of inclusivity.4 Given the United States’ historic prejudice against key HIV populations and the current administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, entry into the U.S. for the AIDS 2020 conference remains highly unlikely for key HIV populations – such as, sex workers, PLHIV, drug users, and individuals from lower income countries.5 Although concerns over U.S. entry may be exacerbated by the discriminatory language emanating from the current White House administration, anxiety over the visa application process is well-founded on prior U.S. exclusion of key HIV communities in the 1998 and 2010 IAS conferences.1 Without participation from the most marginalized HIV populations in the world, AIDS 2020 severely undermines its primary objective of accelerating a progressive and actionable HIV/AIDS global agenda.6
In addition to the critique on conference accessibility, AIDS 2020 has also been denounced as a multi-million dollar, trade-show style conference that prioritizes the ego of public health elites over the needs of the highest-risk communities.1,5 While the U.S. has historically been the biggest donor to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, the actions and policies of the current U.S. administration have failed to unify a global response to HIV/AIDS. While proponents of AIDS 2020 argue that a U.S. based conference could globally pressure the obstinate Trump administration to change, the conference’s dependence on host country cooperation is likely to produce minimal criticism of U.S. leadership.7
Although much of the AIDS 2020 debate centers on key population access and representation, the underlying issue between the two conferences stems from an internal disagreement on the most effective path toward progress. AIDS 2020 emphasizes “resilience” and reaffirms the current global AIDS response structure, while HIV 2020 calls for a “community reclaiming” that challenges the current systems of HIV/AIDS leadership. While the establish authorities of the HIV/AIDS response have tremendously reduced the overall burden of the disease, the response has not done so equitably – wealthy, white communities, like San Francisco, can confidently look toward an AIDS-free future, whereas the global South is battling an alarming HIV/AIDS resurgence. While the disease itself may not discriminate between class, race, gender, or sexuality, the policies that ensure availability and access to effective treatment do. The current victims of HIV/AIDS need leadership that will address the epidemic of today, and although AIDS 2020 may offer an engaging analysis of historic accomplishments, it is HIV 2020 that ensures that key populations will benefit from future successes.
***NOTE: For those who would like more information on HIV 2020, follow the link below to access the conference’s home page.***
HIV 2020: https://www.hiv2020.org/
- Davids, JD. U.S. Networks of People with HIV Oppose U.S. Location for 2020 International AIDS Conference. (2018, March 13). Retrieved from https://www.thebody.com/article/us-networks-of-people-with-hiv-oppose-us-location-
- International AIDS Society. Hosting AIDS 2020. Retrieved from http://www.aids2020.org/About/Hosting-AIDS-2020
- Advocates Unite to Plan an Alternative to AIDS 2020. (2019, August 6). Retrieved from https://www.poz.com/article/advocates-unite-plan-alternative-aids-2020
- International AIDS Society. Five IAS Values. Retrieved from https://www.iasociety.org/Who-we-are/About-the-IAS/Five-IAS-Values
- Murphy, Tim. There Might Be an Alternative AIDS Conference in 2020. (2018, September 4). Retrieved from https://www.thebody.com/article/there-might-be-an-alternative-aids-conference-in-2
- International AIDS Society. AIDS 2020 Theme. Retrieved from http://www.aids2020.org/About/AIDS2020-Theme
- Walker, Molly. 2020 AIDS Meeting in Bay Area Sparks Early Controversy –Groups blast U.S. policies; continue tradition of protests at international HIV/AIDS meetings. (2018, July 26). Retrieved from https://www.medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/iac/74259
- HIV 2020 Alliance. Retrieved from https://www.hiv2020.org/
- HIV2020 Informational Webinar. (2019, March 28). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9Dj-vzkOeQ